Place a mirror in front of Nigeria, and all that you would see is Be(com)ing Nigerian:
A Guide. The book passes to be called Nigeria’s encyclopedia on what Nigerians do daily, all year long.
Elnathan John’s blockbuster book, published by Cassava Republic, carries the fetal DNA of Nigerianness. Reading it brings forth the fetal delivery of the elephant in the room: Nigeria.
Of course, the Germany-based satirist could have chosen to tell his story in a different genre from satire, owing to how much Nigerians appreciate – or put bluntly, “understand” – satire, but his choice of this genre shows the belief he has in satire, and how it can be used to demand change in a value-deprived society.
Also, born in Kaduna though, being one of those one might call Nigerians in diaspora, the author flaunts his full knowledge of the Nigerian people. He speaks the Nigerian lingo in the book. On occasions where a Nigerian (or Naija) diction is all that is needed to nail a point, he never runs out of supply for it. He hits the hammer right inside that hole at once.
He even reminds reader of such diction as “At all at-all nah im bad pass” (meaning something is better than nothing). He ends the book with a brief glossary of corrupted English words like: Aks for ask; moqse for mosque.
Be(com)ing Nigerian is told in a relaxed but ironic tone. But the author’s points were spot on and sincere too. John recognises the can-do spirit of average Nigerians. But that is not his focus.
His grouse is etched on the Nigerian ideology of hustle, a term that describes the urge to get ahead by any means necessary. John believes this has supplanted a sound unifying value system in the country.
Hence, he spares no one of his rod of ridicule nor does he shy away from shaming those that should be shamed — politicians, religious leaders, NGOs, artisans, journalists and even writers.
He bites hard at everyone. One would also note the fury underneath some of the author’s expressions; he does well by keeping this at bay, nonetheless. There are times he went the subtle way; however, when need be, he aimed the right punch weight at the right spot. Asides being spot on, John’s ridicules are also current.
One of his chapter talks about becoming a policeman. “Accidental discharge” which John clarifies not to be an unplanned ejaculation during a sexual romp but the erroneous release of bullets on citizens by trigger-happy policemen. Like the daily sun, cases like this are recurrent in Nigeria.
Looking at the book’s splash of black and yellow cover page, wallpapered by a caricatured policeman with a ballooned belly, John tells more story about the Nigerian police with that alone.
Asides hustle, the Nigerian God is one phenomenon John harps on. With the term “Nigerian God”, John establishes how Nigerians have redefined their concept of God. A classic point he makes is Nigerians’ warfare prayers characterised by loudness with absolute disregard for the next door neighbour.
Under the guise of the belief in the Nigerian God, John shows, Nigerians swindle one another, and also accept fate when things go wrong and they could have taken action. It is the Nigerian God religious leaders profess during their escapades with their political buddies. He is who they attribute why they must live luxurious lives to, John writes.
Politricking, as John titles another chapter in his book, unearths the traits of Nigerian politicians. He taunts them as those from whose eyes shame has been peeled off. The author puts it thus: “Do you sometimes feel shame when you are caught doing something wrong? If the answer is yes, then you are not ready for Nigerian politics.”
The 36-year-old excoriates journalists, too: those whose job is to sniff around for “brown envelope” like ants would for sugar, and report first before thinking of fact-checking. An author himself, John gives authors their own chunk of the pie by latching at those who suffer obsession for drinking and trade content for mediocrity.
The author highlights daily oddities in the Nigerian society. In doing this, the “recovering lawyer” burrows his satirical pins into the skin of those who brandish their business cards at any little chance, those who arrive meetings late, those who are visa-sick, and so on. John’s latches at these categories of people are merciless.
John’s delivery is sublime. Humour – a key ingredient in satirical pieces – dots virtually all pages of the book; but he never for once gifted away inciting thoughtfulness in readers. His descriptions are finely tuned and toned, too.
His occasional use of metaphor are well cut out. For instance, in saying “useless”, he puts it as “an impotent given a condom”. Or another where he says nothing pains more than erectile dysfunction. John simply knows where to dangle the metaphoric bait to make you either smile or reflect – but mostly both.
Were he to have included a chapter that tells us how Nigerians live in denial when it comes sexual recklessness, he might have tightened some missing nuts in the book. Add this to the fact that the author did not hurl jibes the way of the Nigerian military personnel like he did the police, one could say this is yet another underbelly in the book.
The author makes up for these, however, by serving readers with rich content and tongue-in-cheek imageries. They are never out of sight for once in the book.
For Nigerians, the book reawakens their consciousness into what they do. For non-Nigerians, it beams light into understanding the inner workings of Nigeria and its people. Be(com)ing Nigerian speaks truth to power without fear or favour. And for anyone who savours this trait in a book, Elnathan John’s book satisfies that specification.